Photo of Kristine Patterson (second from left), who applied her UWL master's capstone project to host an "Unplug to Reconnect" event at UW-Superior.

Kristine Patterson (second from left) applied her UWL master’s capstone project to host an “Unplug to Reconnect” event at UW-Superior.

UW-La Crosse alumni are making big career moves thanks to the skills and experiences they gained from UWL’s online Recreation Management – Professional Development master’s program.

While serving as a recreation coordinator for the Berwyn Park District in Berwyn, Illinois, Nicole Collier was exploring ways to take the next step in her career. Collier’s boss suggested UWL’s master’s program, a two-year, fully online offering designed for working professionals.

The program covers an array of topics from the philosophical foundations of leisure, play, and recreation; data evaluation and management; and diversity and social justice in recreation.

“Each class really helped open my eyes even more in this field,” Collier says. “What I really enjoyed and got a lot from was my classmates’ experiences. I was presented with some amazing ideas, and I would think about how I could either incorporate something like that into my own agency or perhaps make some adjustments to make it work. Having a group of people from so many different areas in recreation but also across the U.S. was really amazing, and a vital asset to this program.”

After earning her degree in 2023, Collier was promoted to superintendent of recreation at the Berwyn Park District. In this role, she is now responsible for overseeing staff, managing resources and leading various initiatives.

Collier hopes to rally her team behind a new master plan intended to make the Berwyn Park District a model of excellence in the surrounding area — a challenge UWL helped prepare her to tackle.

“The program gave me greater insight into upper management, ultimately creating more confidence in my leadership skills,” Collier says. “I have become a more effective communicator not only in a professional capacity but personally as well. UW-La Crosse allowed me to see I had all the tools to be a good leader. It just helped me fine tune them, and for that, I will always be grateful.”

“This is exactly what we had hoped for and envisioned that our program could support our students in,” Kate Evans, academic program director, says.  “We have extraordinary professionals enrolling in our program, and it is humbling to help support them as they realize their professional goals.”

Kristine Patterson, a 2021 graduate of the Recreation management – Professional Development master’s program, is also putting her UWL experiences to good use.

As the director of Campus Recreation at UW-Superior, Patterson has grown increasingly interested in mindfulness both personally and professionally.

Her master’s capstone project, “Putting Mindfulness and Well-Being into Practice Through Campus Employment,” explored the possibility of creating a program that could serve as a catalyst for mental health support and positive change in the community.

Upon earning her degree, Patterson worked to turn her project into reality.

The result was “Unplug to Reconnect,” a two-day program in which nine students and four staff members took a break from all electronics during an overnight trip. Activities included hiking, card games, puzzles, coloring, marshmallow-roasting, culminating with a canoe trip on Amnicon Lake.

Participants say they enjoyed learning about meditation methods, mindfulness, being present in the moment and more.

In the months and years ahead, Patterson hopes to organize additional events, incorporating more components from her capstone project for the benefit of her campus community.

Seeing recent graduates utilize their capstone projects and advance in their careers, Evans says, is a testament to the quality of the program.

Evans explains the program “was built from the ground up to serve the needs of working professionals in recreation” — from rolling admission to a flat tuition rate to a well-rounded team of faculty.

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Graduate & Extended Learning connects the university to the community by offering innovative educational opportunities including degree programs, professional development, youth programs, conference and event services, and test preparation.

Written by UWL University Marketing & Communications

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